Naked (1993 film)
|Directed by||Mike Leigh|
|Produced by||Simon Channing Williams|
|Written by||Mike Leigh|
|Music by||Andrew Dickson|
|Edited by||Jon Gregory|
|Distributed by||First Independent Films (UK)
Fine Line Features (US)
|Box office||$1,769,306 (USA)|
Naked is a 1993 British black comedy-drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh and starring David Thewlis as Johnny, a motor-mouthed intellectual and conspiracy theorist. Stark and brutal in tone, Naked was a departure for Leigh, whose previous works were known for their subtle comedic dissections of middle-class and working-class manners. Leigh's Naked screenplay relied heavily on lengthy improvisation during rehearsals, but little actual ad-libbing was filmed. Critically acclaimed, the film won a number of awards, including best director and best actor at Cannes. Naked marked a new career high for Leigh as a director and made the then-unknown Thewlis an internationally recognized star.
After a rough sexual encounter with a married woman in a Manchester alley becomes a rape, Johnny Fletcher steals a car and flees for Dalston, "a scrawny, unpretentious area" in the east of London. He seeks refuge with his former girlfriend, fellow Mancunian Louise. Louise is not happy to see her ex. She works as a file clerk and shares a rental house with two flatmates, Sophie a young party girl, and primary tenant Sandra, a nurse who's away on vacation.
Johnny immediately seduces Sophie, but soon tires of her and embarks on an extended latter-day odyssey among the destitute and despairing of the United Kingdom's capital city. During his encounters in London's seedy underbelly, Johnny expounds his world-view at long and lyrical length to anyone who will listen, whether Archie, a Scottish boy yelling "Maggie!" at the top of his voice he comes across in Brewer Street, or Brian, a security guard planning for his future amidst acres of empty space, whom Johnny marks down as having, 'the most tedious job in England'.
After pursuing then rejecting a drunken woman, Johnny is tossed out of a sublet by a young cafe worker he's followed home. He hitches a ride with a man who's hanging posters around town. The poster man, exasperated by Johnny's nonstop haranguing, kicks him several times, driving off with Johnny's only possession, a duffel bag with his clothes and books. Johnny wanders the streets and with no provocation, is severely beaten by an anonymous gang of thugs.
He manages to return to Louise and confronts Jeremy (aka Sebastian), a pathological sexual predator and Sandra's landlord, who has let himself into the house. Sophie is desperate to get Jeremy out of the house after a sexual encounter with him turned into rape. She and Louise try to keep Johnny quiet but Jeremy awakens to find Johnny, injured and having a fit.
Sandra returns from her trip to Zimbabwe and tends to Johnny. Louise rids the house of Jeremy. She and Johnny have a reconciliation. Feeling desolate and rejected, Sophie flees the house with her few possessions. Louise leaves for work, promising to return and go back to Manchester with Johnny. But Johnny is compelled to leave, throwing himself back into the world as he has ostensibly done so many times before.
- David Thewlis as Johnny Fletcher
- Lesley Sharp as Louise Clancy
- Katrin Cartlidge as Sophie
- Greg Cruttwell as Jeremy G. Smart / Sebastian Hawk
- Claire Skinner as Sandra the Nurse
- Peter Wight as Brian, the security guard
- Ewen Bremner as Archie the Scotsman with a tic
- Elizabeth Berrington as Giselle
- Gina McKee as The Cafe Girl
- Darren Turnstall as Poster Man
Background and development
Leigh first had the idea for the story while a student in Manchester in the early 1950s: "We had a very enlightened teacher who endlessly reminded us that the next total eclipse would be in August 1999. Later I started thinking about the millennium and the end of the world. In 1992 the millennium was impending, so I brought that idea to the film."
In 1965, Leigh had teamed up with David Halliwell, hired the Unity Theatre for a fortnight, and directed the first production of Halliwell's Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs. According to theater critic Michael Coveney, "Malcolm Scrawdyke is clearly a precursor of Johnny in Naked. Scrawdyke was a loutish art student and absurd ideologue from Huddersfield who had trouble with girls and a hatred for his teachers...the play shared a deeply felt schoolboy coarseness with Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, a piece originally written as a vicious attack on a loathed mathematics master."
Leigh's method, as in all his character dramas, consisted of elaborate improvisational rehearsals with the cast to develop the background stories and traits of their characters. The actors interacted with the outside world and with each other while in character until Leigh told them to come out of character and be themselves. The dialogue produced from these interactions was then tightly edited, or "distilled" to form the script, based on a minimal plot outline by Leigh. The cast was not allowed to discuss their characters with one another outside of rehearsals, as Leigh, for realism, would rather they meet and interact as they would in real life. Thewlis' background reading for the part of Johnny included Voltaire's Candide, the teachings of Buddha and James Gleick's Chaos, as well as the Bible and the Qur'an.
After weeks of improvisations between Leigh and his cast, filming took place in London from 9 September to 16 December 1992. Sandra's Neo-Gothic home was an actual interior/exterior location that Leigh featured heavily, particularly in the last shot of the film, as its corner location allowed for wide street views.
The scenes between Johnny and Brian the security guard came from an eight-hour improvisation. The uncut shot of Johnny and Brian in silhouette, where Johnny expounds on his convoluted apocalyptic conspiracy theory, was shot in 26 takes, but Leigh ended up using one of the earliest takes, as it was best. The film's dialogue has a loose, improvisational quality but according to Thewlis, the only improvisation filmed on location was the scene of Johnny meeting and antagonizing the poster man.
The song sung by Johnny and Louise near the film's end, "Take me back to Manchester when it's raining", was one Leigh used to sing with his friends in Habonim ("the Builders"), the international socialist Jewish youth movement he joined as a schoolboy. After the film was released Leigh heard from a retired schoolmaster at Stand Grammar in Prestwich who had written the song for a school review in 1950.
The look of the film is dark, monochromatic and claustrophobic, with subtle visual references to film noir and Alfred Hitchcock. Many shots are located in stairwells and in borrowed flats whose tenants are hostile toward or unaware of the decor, making them seem disconnected from cultural touchstones and their place in their homes. Alienation, sexual violence and misogyny, addiction and depression are touched upon as Johnny meets various rootless individuals who work in dead-end jobs or are unemployed.
Intelligent, educated and eloquent, Johnny is also deeply embittered and egotistical. He tends to dominate conversations with his aggressive intellectualism and theories about modern culture. His tactics are based on a particular form of intellectual bullying, directed at strangers and intimate partners alike, and summed up in domineering, scholastic barrages drawn from eclectic sources. His overall behaviour is reckless, self-destructive and at times borderline sadistic, and shows a penchant for aggressive sexual domination at least twice throughout the film.
Biographer Sheridan Morley described Johnny as, "Alfie in the grips of Thatcherite depression", – thus, according to critic Michael Coveney, "cross fertilizing Bill Naughton's chirpy cockney Lothario, immortalized by Michael Caine, with the dark sinister disaffection of the new underclass – a neat way of indicating that the Swinging Sixties had degenerated into the nauseated Nineties." Coveney expressed that Leigh had captured something of the anxiety, rootless cynicism, and big-city disaffection of the time.
Ben Myers, in a Guardian article calling Naked Mike Leigh's "finest work" and "the best British film in recent history," elaborated on the many theories film-goers have had on who Johnny might represent: "...a modern, albeit highly flawed, Jesus attempting to change people's lives. Or perhaps he's the devil himself. Others have suggested it is a post-AIDS morality movie, or a classic urban existentialist tale."
Other echoes, cinematic and literary, that critics have detected in the film include William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning (one of Leigh's favourite films). Shakespeare's hero is marked by "talking incessantly to the audience and assuming a dominance over other characters through expressions of mania, and rapid, witty speech. Thewlis, ... wrapped like Hamlet in a black and inky coat, [is similarly] socially untethered but burdened with useless knowledge and a vicious, bullying line in repartee." Of the precedent of "idiosyncratic, character-driven film-making" in Renoir's Boudu, Coveney has observed: "Both Naked and Boudu explore the tension between the domesticated and the anarchic (this is a central theme, probably the theme running through Leigh's work), and focus this tension in the tragicomedy of a central character."
The film generated mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 88% rating based on reviews from 52 critics, with an average score of 8.2/10 and the consensus: "Naked lives up to its title with a thoroughly committed performance from David Thewlis that's backed up with some of Mike Leigh's most powerful direction." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 84 (out of 100) based on 20 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim."
Derek Malcolm of The Guardian noted that the film "is certainly Leigh's most striking piece of cinema to date" and that "it tries to articulate what is wrong with the society that Mrs Thatcher claims does not exist." On the character of Johnny, he notes: "He likes no one, least of all himself, and he dislikes women even more than men, relapsing into sexual violence as his misogyny takes hold. He is perhaps redeemable, but only just. And not by any woman in our immediate view." He praised the directing and performances, singling out David Thewlis, mentioning that he "plays [Johnny] with a baleful brilliance that is certain to make this underrated, but consistently striking, actor into a star name ... [Johnny] is, at his worst, a cold, desperate fish. His redeeming feature is that he still cares."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and analysed the message behind the title, saying it "describes characters who exist in the world without the usual layers of protection. They are clothed, but not warmly or cheerfully. But they are naked of families, relationships, homes, values and, in most cases, jobs. They exist in modern Britain with few possessions except their words." He praised the directing, noting: "[Leigh's] method has created in Naked a group of characters who could not possibly have emerged from a conventional screenplay; this is the kind of film that is beyond imagining, and only observation could have created it." He concluded: "This is a painful movie to watch. But it is also exhilarating, as all good movies are, because we are watching the director and actors venturing beyond any conventional idea of what a modern movie can be about. Here there is no plot, no characters to identify with, no hope. But there is care: The filmmakers care enough about these people to observe them very closely, to note how they look and sound and what they feel."
Julie Burchill attacked the film in The Sunday Times, saying that Leigh's characters talked like lobotomised Muppets; they talked, she said, "sub-wittily, the way Diane Arbus's subjects look." And Suzanne Moore in The Guardian criticised the lethargic females whose lives Johnny routinely ruins: "What sort of realism is this? To show a misogynist and surround him with such walking doormats has the effect, intentional or not, of justifying this behaviour." Lesley Sharp (Louise) responded: "There are a lot of people who don't go to art house cinemas who do have deeply troubled lives and are at risk ... We do actually live in a misogynistic, violent society and there are a lot of women in abusive relationships who find it very difficult to get out of them. And a lot of men, too." Coveney denied the relevance of the criticism: "Is there no room for irony, for the idea that in depicting horror in the sex war an artist is exposing them, not endorsing them? And who says that Sophie is an unwilling doormat or that Louise is a doormat at all? It is clear that the latter is taking serious stock of her relationship with Johnny. She exhibits both patience and tenderness in her dealings with him, whereas she finally pulls a knife on Jeremy."
Awards and nominations
- Cinéfest: Best International Film (1993) (won)
- Cannes Film Festival (1993): Best Director (won)
- Cannes Film Festival (1993): Palme d'Or (nominated)
- Cannes Film Festival: Best Actor – David Thewlis (1993) (won)
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor – David Thewlis (1993)
- Toronto International Film Festival: Metro Media Award (1993) (won)
- Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics: Grand Prix (1994) (nominated)
- Evening Standard British Film Awards: Best Actor – David Thewlis (1994)
- London Critics Circle Film Awards ALFS Award: British Actor of the Year – David Thewlis (1994)
- National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Actor – David Thewlis (1994)
- BAFTA Awards Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film (1994) (nominated)
- Independent Spirit Awards: Best Foreign Film (1994) (nominated)
- "NAKED (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 August 1993. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
- Jeffries, Stuart. "'I got dangerously close to Johnny'". The Guardian. 14 August 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
- Coveney, Michael (1996). The World According to Mike Leigh, pp.19, 21, 25, 27, 29, 32-34, 65-67. HarperCollins, New York. ISBN 0006383394.
- Hoad, Phil. "How We Made Naked," The Guardian. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
- Leigh, Mike (Director), (1993). Naked (Motion picture). The Criterion Collection. United Kingdom: Leigh, Mike; Thewlis, David; Cartlidge, Katrin.
- Myers, Ben. "Is Naked Britain's most under-rated film?," The Guardian. 20 February 2008. Retrieved on 16 February 2017.
- "Naked (1993)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
- "Naked." Metacritic. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
- Malcolm, Derek. "Naked (Review)." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
- Ebert, Roger. "Naked (Review)." Chicago Sun-Times. 18 February 1994. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
- Moore, Suzanne. "Reel men don't eat quiche." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Print. Quoted in Watts, Carol. "Mike Leigh's Naked and the Gestic Economy of Cinema." Women: A Cultural Review. 7.13 (1996): 271. Print.
- "Festival de Cannes: Naked". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
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